Steelers Stock Report: Whose stock is rising after beating the Browns
One thing’s for certain; there is no such thing as a nice, enjoyable Steelers victory. There hasn’t been for quite some time now. Every victory is of the grind it out, hold your breath till the closing seconds type of game.
Monday night’s hard-fought victory over the Cleveland Browns was more of the same. The Steelers are now the most successful franchise on Monday Night Football in NFL history. Just another record to add to the list. The Steelers are magical on Monday nights, and they needed every bit of it to beat the Browns.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Edge rushers
I contemplated doing a section for both Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt, but seeing how the Dynamic Duo shared the spotlight during the on-field post-game interview, I decided to keep them together here as well. Nobody did more to win that game for the Steelers than these two gentlemen. They are no longer Batman and Robin, because Highsmith has ascended past trusty sidekick. Now they are more like the Avengers. I will leave it to you to decide which ones.
It was honestly disheartening to hear so much of the fanbase criticize Highsmith after he was neutralized Week 1 by Niners OT Trent Williams, who just so happens to be the best offensive lineman in the league. All week the Browns, and their fanbase, foolishly talked about how they were going to shutdown Watt, but they never even mentioned Highsmith. I mentioned that oversight, both in article and podcast. It proved to be prophetic.
Highsmith was a force from the opening snap, returning his interception of a tipped pass for the first touchdown of his NFL career on the first play of the game. He was also responsible for the game winning defensive TD when his fourth quarter strip sack of Deshaun Watson resulted in a scoop and score for his tag team partner Watt.
Speaking of Watt, the man is quite simply the best defensive player on the planet. I said it last week, and it’s still true today. Watt is now the Steelers all time leader in QB sacks, moving ahead of James Harrison with 81.5 and counting. Watt impacts the game in so many ways as a complete, well rounded defender. The sky is the limit for the young man, if blessed with good health.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Markus Golden and Nick Herbig. They have already proven to be excellent depth in the early stages of the season. Golden is a crafty veteran that competes from snap to whistle. He picked up his first sack as a Steeler Monday night. Herbig once again flashed his elite level explosiveness in his handful of snaps, and he would have had his first NFL sack if not for the face mask drag down by Watson.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Defensive line
We all knew it was going to take a group effort to replace Cameron Heyward, and the Steelers depth definitely rose to the occasion. Well, almost all of them. More on that in a moment.
Larry Ogunjobi has proven to be allergic to practice, but recovers quickly on gameday. I could careless if he ever practices, if plays like he did Monday night. Ogunjobi was dominant, penetrating the Browns backfield repeatedly, including his first sack of the season. Isaiahh Loudermilk has stacked strong performances for the first time in his career. DeMarvin Leal picked up his first QB sack of the season, and Armon Watts gave his customary professional performance.
I was shocked that the Steelers didn’t call up Breiden Fehoko from the practice squad, or increase Keeanu Benton’s minutes, against the Browns powered rushing attack. It looked like a tragic decision in the early going, as Nick Chubb was gashing the Steelers up the middle, prior to his heartbreaking injury. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again; Montravius Adams is not a nose tackle, and he is the weak link of the Steelers front seven.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Inside linebacker
Without going into great detail, because I would much rather forget last year’s depth chart at ILB ever existed, let me just say this: the Steelers inside linebackers made more splash plays on Monday night than the 2022 collective group did all season.
Cole Holcomb is starting to find his comfort zone in the Steelers defense. He had numerous physical tackles, including one for a loss, pressured the pocket on multiple occasions, and forced a fumble through shear hustle. That fumble would have never occurred with last year’s passive bystanders observing the play from behind.
Kwon Alexander led the team in tackles, and his impressive speed has helped the Steelers defense avoid giving up big plays on a couple of occasions already this season. He has kinda filled Terrell Edmunds security blanket role in that way.
Elandon Roberts brings his unique aggressiveness on every play, and he hits harder than anybody else on the defensive. I am pleased with the Steelers physicality and aggressiveness at the position, especially when you consider that Mark Robinson hasn’t even seen the field on defense yet.
Steelers Stock Trending Down: Secondary
I really don’t know how to start this section, because the Steelers defensive backfield is a mess. The coverage concepts are inadequate, regardless of execution. Receivers are running wide open, with no defender in screen shot. Minkah Fitzpatrick is being misused, and has been ineffective, even prior to his injury. Patrick Peterson looks confused, old, and slow. The Steelers appear to miss Terrell Edmunds more than they want to admit.
However, Levi Wallace remains the biggest weakness in the Steelers defensive backfield. He has been the worst defender on the field two weeks running, with Montravius Adams giving him slight competition.
Wallace is an easy reception waiting to happen thus far this season. Even when he is in position, he is unable to make a play on the ball. His tackling has been atrocious, and he has lost outside containment on long runs two weeks in a row. Mainly because of his well documented lack of speed. If you can’t run, you better be fundamentally sound. Wallace has been anything but this season.
I can’t imagine Wallace retaining his starting position over Joey Porter Jr after Monday night’s disaster, but we all know how stubborn Mike Tomlin can be. Speaking of Porter, he had two pass defenses in the game, primarily because he is the only Steelers defensive back capable of providing tight coverage apparently.
Steelers Stock Trending Down: Offense
Another section with no easy answers. The Steelers offensive game plan is rudimental, especially in the modern era. Far too simplistic and predictable. Kenny Pickett appears to have regressed. He is struggling to hit his receivers on the move, throwing late and behind his receivers. It remains to be seen how much of Pickett’s struggles are due to the Steelers simplistic play calling, lack of any semblance of a running game, or the quality of the Steelers first two opponents. I believe that the truth lies a little with all three, but I believe there is a bigger culprit.
The Steelers offensive line has been my biggest disappointment this season, by far. I expected free agent acquisition Isaac Seumalo to be the missing piece necessary to take this line to the next level. That hasn’t been the case. The Steelers offensive line is proven unable to win the line of scrimmage. Their communication is lacking, and they are struggling with stacked boxes. It’s really a double edged problem that we have seen repeated during Matt Canada’s tenure: nobody fears or respects the Steelers offense due to it’s simplistic nature, and corresponding lack of splash plays. Leaving the offensive line outnumbered and overwhelmed.
As long as opposing defenses feel comfortable pressing the Steelers outside receivers knowing that the Steelers are unwilling or unable to utilize the middle of the field, nothing is going to change. Kenny Pickett is a young QB. Quarterbacks need a reliable running game, and a quality offensive line capable of generating one. Pickett has neither at the moment. They also lack an offensive coordinator capable of recognizing and rectifying the situation. Like I said, plenty of questions, precious few answers.